Clemens Busch (Punderich) BIODYNAMIC
Clemens Busch looks a bit like Jesus. He certainly has intensity and conviction! He and his wife Rita have transformed our expectations of the Punderich vineyards. Punderich was just another village in the middle Mosel churning out dilute, wishy-washy wines with yields of over 100hl/ha. The Busch’s crop at around 40 hl/ha. They own 7.5ha of vines in Marienburg (Virgin Mary’s Castle) and Nonnengarten (Nun’s Garden), which used to belong to the Cloister. They are currently renovating Clemens’ grandfather’s old house built in 1663 on the riverfront, but continue to make their wines in the cellars up the hill, away from the water’s edge. We asked Clemens about the distinctive and fascinating nose on his wines, reminiscent of aged Rieslings, and he revealed that, in the search for further layers of complexity, he allows his grapes to oxidise slightly before fermentation. Unusual, but effective! There is nothing of your average Mosel about these wines. They show definition, poise and intensity and set a new benchmark of quality for others to aspire to.
We were picking up from Schloss Schonborn in the Rheingau and, once we had loaded, the woman in the Despatch department said, “I make wine on the Mosel. Would you like to try it?” Sure. And we took two bottles with us. Fascinating labels – very clean and arty. Most fascinating was the GPS location of the exact parcel of vines. Nice touch. A new spin on terroir, refined for Googlemaps and TomTom.
On one of our next visits we phoned Hedda Nuetzmann. She was surprised to hear from us. Yes, we liked the wines, particularly Steiler Suden (steep south). Can we meet at Zum Krug, taste the whole range?
Hedda has several jobs. In Despatch at Schloss Schonborn, as a masseuse and, with her boyfriend, a well-known German theatre actor, now retired, called Michael Altmann, produces a meagre number of bottles from a few rows in Neefer Frauenberg…on the Mosel. Intriguing. They make four bottlings from less than a hectare. Steiler Suden (steep south), Rosengartchen (little rose garden), Der Schoss (the lap – a Y shaped parcel in the vineyard) and Der Rote (the red one). Confusingly the red one is actually rose made from young vine Spatburgunder and Dornfelder. The others are all Riesling, all very pure and unmessed-with. Steiler Suden often has a wild yeasty nose, Rosengartchen is daintier.
News – Hedda and Michael have recently married. Hedda stopped at Schloss Schonborn and worked for a while at Chat Sauvage. Our colleague Dan Towler did the 2011 harvest with them and Rosengartchen 2011 is now on our shelves (probably briefly).
A German love story. Armin Vogel met Mona Bastgen at Geisenheim, the world famous wine making academy, and once married, they began to pursue their dream of making wine themselves. Taking over from Mona’s butcher and vintner father in 1992, the couple live and work in a hi-tech wood and glass house atop a hill with stunning views towards Bernkastel. Armin spoke to us of wanting to make “slender” wine, capturing the balance of fruit and minerality which typifies the best of the Mosel. He’s bored of the succession of hot ripe vintages preferring the racy balance of the rainy grey ones!
The wines have great tension, with a certain “nervy” balance to them, notes of white flowers, pears, and a friendly crowd-pleasing quality which caresses those new to German wine, rather than slapping them about the face.
Eva Clusserath (Trittenheim)
What a coincidence, our mate Stuart Pigott, the German Wine Journalist based in Berlin was on the Mosel at the same time. So we gate-crashed his meeting with Eva Clusserath (and her boyfriend, now husband, well-known winemaker Philipp Wittmann from Rheinhessen) in Trittenheim. There seem to be thousands of Clusserath’s in Trittenheim! Eva has been making great leaps since she took over from her father Ansgar in 2001. Of course, her Trittenheimer Apotheke Spatlese trocken, made from 60-70 yo vines was bound to be fabulous in 2005. What really impressed us was the quality of the entry-level wines, Vom Schiefer (from slate) and Steinreich (stone-rich or stone-empire).
It’s difficult to imagine a more idyllic way to start the day, breakfasting in the house on Trittenheim bridge with the Apotheke vineyard towering above you on the opposite bank and watching the sun swing over the hill, gradually bringing the vines into the light as the mist rises over the Mosel. Father and daughter, Helmut and Verana, do the wine, mother Helga runs the guesthouse. Trittenheim is full of Clusseraths so to avoid confusion Helga brings the Weiler name with her from nearby Mehring. They always use wild yeasts, which can give their wines a wild perfume. The “HC” is crisp and lean, with spicy minerality. The Alte Reben (Old Vines) comes from a parcel of 50-75 yo vines and gives a deeper, denser flavour and mouthfeel. The “S” is a selection of the best bits of the best parcels, (usually from a small beautifully placed triangular parcel half-way up the vineyard immediately opposite the house) – while not the oldest vines hre are none less than 30yo. Virana was excited by the 2005s. After a slightly disappointing cool summer there was a long warm autumn giving the grapes the same ripeness and supercharged alcohol as the 2003s but with much better acidities.
Martin Conrad (Brauneberg)
Martin Conrad is a twenty-something young buck from the beautiful, loopy Middle Mosel. Martin took over from his parents a few years ago and is hell-bent on raising quality. His mother runs the family’s hotel and restaurant in the village of Brauneberg while Martin concentrates in his winery on the opposite side of the road. His style is modern, dry Mosel Riesling with more-ish minerality. Ripe in the nose (from the late-harvested grapes), succulent in the mouth and dry on the end.
The Franzens are gradually adjusting to life after Uli, the 54 year-old father, died in a freak vineyard accident in June 2010. Uli lived his entire life in Bremm on the Mosel, a village he put on the map with his mineral-laden dry Rieslings. We always enjoyed our visits with Uli. Sometimes he would take us in (although clinging to would be more apt) his vertical monorack rail, up the Bremmer Calmont, the steepest vineyard in Europe – steeper even than Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Priorat. From there you can see the Neefer Frauenberg, just beyond the ruined convent that Turner painted when he did his tour of the Mosel.
Everyone rallied round after the accident. Uli’s brothers helped with the bottling, the kids were all-hands-on-deck, friends and fellow growers were also near. His young son Kilian, in his last year at wine college, stepped up to the plate.
Kilian and his girlfriend Angelina Lenz are now fully in charge, making modern dry Riesling, picked very late (at the end of October) for full ripeness and quivering with smoky minerals from the quartz-infused slate. There is a new bottling in their line-up, complete with a new label, “Der Sommer war sehr Gross” (the summer was great).
When we emerged from our tasting at Clusserath-Weiler, there was a message on the voicemail. “Stuart here. I’m round at Theo Haart’s. The wines are…. frankly stunning (paraphrasing for the faint-of-heart). He’s not working in the UK at the moment. You’d better get your asses over here.” So we jumped into the van and charged over to Piesport to catch them before they left the restaurant. Theo is world-renowned for his classic sweeter Piesporters and, yes, the 2005s were sumptuous. Wild yeasts, classic blackcurrant leaf aromas, ripe peachy yellow fruit mouthfeel, with smoky, slatey minerality and exhilarating acidity – high-class fruity Mosel which can age effortlessly for 30 years or more.
We have been frequent visitors since then. The Haart winery is, without doubt, the top estate in Piesport, with beautifully kept old parcels in the legendary Goldtropfchen (Golden droplets) vineyard teetering over the river Mosel. Theo and Edith’s son Johannes seems to be increasingly taking over while Theo increasingly eases off. Despite saying he’s tired and ready for retirement, Theo looks very relaxed to us. As ever, the wines are brilliant.
Kirsten (Klusserath) ORGANIC
Bernhard Kirsten is from the Mosel; Inge from Hamburg. They met in 1987 in New York while she was working in the travel business and he was passing through, visiting his sister, between Germany and California where he had internships at Domaine Napa, Pine Ridge and Mondavi in Oakville. After a couple of years learning about Cabernet Sauvignon, he came home to take over the family winery and concentrate on Riesling. Wind forward 26 years and the winery has grown to 15 hectares and, for the past 5 years, is fully organic. Well-known domestically for their sekt and locally for their trester (marc/grappa), the core of their output is dry Riesling. Although they have a little bit of Kowericher Laurentiuslay and Policher Held, most of their vines are in the magnificent, sweeping loop of Klusserather Bruderschaft, many in the Herzstuck (the heart piece) – the best part. The wines are impressive, packed with surging minerals, deep, textured and multi-layered.
From the dizzyingly steep Terrassenmosel (Mosel Terraces), where the Mosel tips into the Rhine at Koblenz. Knebels have been growing vines here since 1650. Beate and her son Mathias’ vineyards are vertigo-inducing, yields are extremely low and the grapes are painstakingly picked by hand. Wild yeasts often give their wines striking aromas. The Mosel is all about minerals, slate and racy precision. Intense and packed with savoury minerals, they are almost like licking slate.
Lubentiushof – Andreas Barth (Niederfell)
Andreas Barth studied Law and Music but decided, with the support of his interior designer wife, Susanne, to turn to wine-making. He is almost entirely self-taught except for a couple of modules at the famous wine school at Geisenheim. In 1994 they bought an estate on the outskirts of Koblenz on the not very well-known Lower Mosel called Lubentiushof. Sounds grander than it was… But with a run-down cellar came 2.5ha in Gondorf, which is what Andreas was most interested in. It was tricky starting with no customers – but the first two years went well. Then with all the radical work he was doing in the vineyards there were two years when the vines went into shock yielding just 15hl/ha! Now, having recultivated vines that had gone to seed, he has 5ha - many between 35-85 years old. He only uses natural yeasts, and is virtually organic.
Daniel Deckers, a journalist on the Frankfurter Allgemeine Paper encouraged him to go for the vacant Kellermeister position at the large, historic Von Othegraven estate in the Saar. He now works there one day a week, keen to fill the vacuum there and polish the slightly jaded reputation. It’s exciting to work with historic vineyards like Kanzemer Altenberg. “In the Saar there is a homogenous geology within each vineyard. There is often a slight sparkle within the blue slate which means there is a high oil content. Whereas here on the Lower Mosel in Gondorfer Gans there is some blue slate too, but here it is mixed with red and yellow sandstone/slate and quartz. It’s as if someone has taken all the minerals and shaken them up! To give you an example of the effect: if you can expect 24g of mineral extract on the Middle Mosel, you find 27g on the Lower Mosel.” With the low yields and very late harvest in the vineyard, the high extract of diverse minerals and finally a very, very long fermentation, these wines are surprisingly less floral when young, much tighter and more restrained but packed with information and explosive potential! We tasted from three vintages and the oldest, the 2001s, were definitely showing signs of brilliance. His late release 2003s after extended lees contact and the best part of a year in bottle now taste amazing. Fascinating, deep textures and fabulous length.
Thorsten Melsheimer (Reil) ORGANIC
“I’m the only one stupid enough to work the crazily steep vines in Reil” says head-banded Thorsten Melsheimer. “It’s not as if the vines are actually facing in an ideal direction either. It forces you to work hard. It helps to be bio-dynamic. You have to slash the yield and pick insanely late. I bought some vines in a perfect south facing vineyard recently and the wines are not as interesting – the vines are just lazy!” Thorsten is certainly not lazy, nursing old vines back to life, rebuilding walls in the remotest, least-accessible part of the Mullay-Hofberg vineyard. “When I get really hot working in the vines I jump into the Mosel for a quick swim to cool off.”
Martin Mullen (Traben-Trarbach)
Quietly determined Martin Mullen had a falling-out of almost biblical proportions with his father, ending up with Martin going his own way and effectively building up his vineyard holdings from scratch. We have been watching his wines for a while. Shallow as it may sound, we were originally put off by the kitsch bird motif on one of his labels. But then the wines haunted us… Beautiful, poised, focused wines of finesse and polish.
Krov may have been built on the bawdy image of the Krover “Nacktarsch” (naked bottom), but Martin is almost single-handedly raising the reputation of its finest slopes “Paradies” and “Letterlay” with his hauntingly fragrant, pure wines.
Rudolf Trossen (Kinheim-Kindel) BIODYNAMIC
“Fate” Rudolf called it, when we called by on the off-chance and found him in. This after phoning for directions from the riverside car park. “Can you see the house with the round windows on the opposite bank of the river? That’s me waving!”
We were intrigued by whispers of a very uncompromising grower in Kinheim-Kindel. Rudolf Trossen, leather waistcoat, Scholl footwear, is a Hardcore Eco-warrior…and poet. His father came back from the Russian front after the war with half a leg missing, so Rudi had to do all the spraying and had an allergic reaction to the chemicals. Having not been convinced he was going to take over from his father his allergies got him thinking about ecology. He had found his cause. “Biodynamics started here in Germany with Rudolf Steiner’s theories from the 1920s” he says. He founded Demeter and Ecovin in Rheinland-Pfalz.
His vines all lie in the Kinheimer Hubertuslay and, as he points to his parcels scattered on the opposite slope, it quickly becomes clear which are his – the ones with green ground cover. So what are the wines like? The Schieferblume (Slate Flowers) and Trossen Kabinett trocken are lively, fresh – and savoury, smoky, with loads of mineral content. The Madonna Plateau is from a parcel of pre-phylloxera vines above a small statue of the Madonna. Wonderful, crazy-subtle perfume and fabulous density.
Rebenhof – Johannes Schmitz (Urzig)
Johannes Schmitz is an energetic player in the well-known village of Urzig. He and his wife run a guest house from their winery. He is the President of the committee that has been arranging the “Flurbereinigung” (the re-structuring and rationalisation of the German vineyards, a process that started in 1968) – a sure way to win some friends and lose others! He has 4.5ha, one third of which are young vines, the rest are between 40 and 80 years-old. His “Alten Reben” is always from his 80 y.o. vines. He sets a benchmark for Urzig, with all the body and herbal spiciness the Wurzgarten is renowned for.
Andreas Schmitges (Erden)
From the steep, iron-rich red slopes of Erdener Treppchen and the even steeper Pralat come Andreas Schmitges’ gently spicy, boldly perfumed, beautifully judged modern dry Rieslings. He knows they’re good. Why fight it?
Harald Steffens-Kess (Reil) ORGANIC
“I’m the one who went round to Thorsten Melsheimer and signed him up to Ecovin” says Eco vintner Harald Steffens-Kess. Harald Steffens-Kess is friend and almost neighbour of Thorsten in the village of Reil on the Mosel. He has a small parcel in Reil, the rest on the opposite bank in generally more sun-favoured Burg. His Hahnenschrittchen (hens’ little steps) is the best we’ve tasted from that vineyard. He makes his wines in a slightly leaner, nervier style with all the whiff of slate that we love from the Mosel.
We first spotted Stein’s Domwein (Cathedral wine) at the excellent and very friendly Restaurant Zum Eichamt in Zell-Merl. On our next visit we called Dr Ulrich Stein and made our way up to his amazing house at the top of the hill above the village of Alf. It was dark, rainy and hard to find. Vines mark the beginning of the steep drop. Even on the darkest winter evening the view downstream is breathtaking. Ulrich’s signature technique is to blend two tanks, one a very racy early-picking with another, much richer late-picking. He says that gives each wine the best of both worlds, the nervy higher acidity with as sense of depth and ripeness.
Wehlen is one of the most famous wine villages on the planet. Its vineyards cling to the slope on the opposite bank of the Mosel, a slope of uninterrupted Grand Cru sites from Bernkastel through Graach and Wehlen up to Zeltingen, where the river starts another loop. Wehlen is best known for its Sonnenuhr (Sundial) vineyard. It is also inextricably linked with the family name of Prum. There are several Prums in the village; JJ Prum (by far the most famous and still making exclusively sweet styles), SA Prum, Weins-Prum and Studert-Prum. Other well-known estates such as Dr Loosen, Robert Weil, Christoffel and Pauly-Bergweiler also had Prums in their families.
Gerd Studert’s mother is one of the SA Prums and the SA Prum estate was divided between her and her sister. Gerd has five hectares, which may not be much, but the fact remains that they are great vineyards in Wehlen, Graach and Bernkastel.
We have been keeping an eye on Studert-Prum for a long time. It was a bottle of Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese trocken 2009 which we drank at the Moselschild in Urzig that brought us knocking. The style is lean and focused. Restrained and elegant. The wines can be shy when first opened and reveal their beauty and class with air and time in the glass.
Those of us with functioning memories may remember our German intern Gerrit Walter, who was with us for ten weeks over the summer of 2009 and went back home to help with the harvest before heading back to Geisenheim, the top wine college in the country. He makes an excellent basic Riesling trocken from vines in his home village of Briedel, which has become something of a Winery hit. “Edition G”, his top-of-the-range bottling from the Pundericher Marienberg vineyard. Late picked and packed with minerals drawn from the perilously steep, slate vineyards of the small village of Punderich. One sip and it’s easy to understand why his Dad is giving him free rein in the family cellar. Boy done well!
Those of us with long memories may remember Deinhard, a big player in German wines internationally from the 60s and 70s. At that time Deinhard was owned by two families, Wegeler and Deinhard. In the early 90s Wegeler bought the other out. We were delighted to be courted by them recently. “But you are so big and we are so small” – that didn’t bother them. So we thought we’d drop in on their Mosel estate in Bernkastel. Turned out to be a revelation. Famous for their classic fruity Mosels we were delighted to discover that Norbert Breit their Cellar Master also makes elegant, dry wines in his trademark crystal clear, lean style. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese trocken, yes please! And as for the Bernkasteler Doctor….Lordy! So subtle, so refined. Not remotely showy. It works in much the same way as the finest Burgundy does – it doesn’t kick down the door but creeps up on you.
We simply had to ask Norbert to show us the Doctor, a 3 hectare vineyard on a steep slope above Bernkastel. It wasn’t always 3 ha. Before the 1971 wine law, it was 1.35 ha and was Germany’s most famous and expensive wine. Wegeler owns half of the original parcel.
The story of the name is worth telling. Boemund II was the Archbishop of Trier in the 14th century and was very, very ill. Doctors tried everything. Finally a winegrower from Bernkastel brought some wine from his vineyard and the Archbishop made a miraculous recovery. “That’s the only real Doctor,” he said.
Peter Lauer (Ayl)
“Come and look at the Schonfels!” said Florian-Peter Lauer. We were on the Saar at his parents’ Hotel, the Ayler Kupp, tasting through his sizzling range, which were beautifully balanced on the knife-edge between dizzy savoury fruit and searing Saar acidity. The view was gorgeous. He recently bought the parcel from an old boy in the village. “There was a lot of work to do, but look how old the vines are, look at the slate, look how steep the slope is. Don’t go too close to the edge, there’s a big drop down the cliff to the Saar!”
Florian has been showered with awards in Germany in recently. He works the family vines in top vineyard “Ayler Kupp”, one of the most hallowed vineyards on the Saar. Florian took over full responsibility for the wines recently, leaving dad Peter to focus on the hotel they own south of Trier, with a splendid view of the river – although, when the fog rolls in though, it’s difficult to see much of anything.
Loch – Weinhof Herrenberg (Schoden) ORGANIC
Manfred and Claudia Loch bought their first half-hectare plot in the Schodener Herrenberg vineyard in 1991. Each year they try to buy another 0.2ha and another steel tank. They currently have 2.5 hectares and 8 tanks. The steep Herrenberg is an almost fan-shaped slope overlooking the Saar and the village of Schoden 3kms north of Saarburg. Yields in the area are often over 100hl/ha, but the Lochs are working between 20-35hl/ha. You can taste the difference! The Saar is known for producing wines of racy acidity, hard to taste young, tightly-wound and softening only with age.
The Loch style is something else: much riper, much fleshier than your everyday shrill Saar wine. They still have a refreshing, exhilarating acidity, but with richness, depth and a unique mouthfeel. They leave the grapes on the vines incredibly late hoping to squeeze another degree Oechsle (ripeness level) or two out of the late autumn sun.
Their plots are dotted over the vineyard. Each parcel is picked separately, placed in separate tanks and bottled separately without fining and only one very light filtration. The Lochs (and we) are fascinated by the differences – each is clearly distinct.
New this time is the Wiltinger Schlangengraben old vines trocken, from a parcel (unlike most from that vineyard) overlooking the Saar. Also we had to wrestle Manfred for a few bottles of the Ockfener Bockstein trocken – he would dearly love to get hold of more vines in Bockstein – but there are three large land-owners who hold most of it and unfortunately don’t want to sell – shame, in Manfred’s hands the wine achieves another level of spicy intensity.
Also a new label – the third in as many years…a gentle identity shift. First there was Weinhof Herrenberg, then there was equal billing for Weinhof Herrenberg and Loch, now it’s simply Loch.
Von Othegraven (Kanzem)
Terroir. It’s a sense of place. It’s the expression of the earth, of the geology. Here on the Saar, like the Mosel that it feeds, it’s all about slate. The slate here sparkles with Quartz, which often gives the wine a dizzy, spicy, almost tropical character.
We always loved Dr Heidi Kegel, the charming former head anaesthetist from Cologne hospital, who was left the historic von Othegraven estate by a maiden aunt in the early 1990s. When we phoned she would say “what time would you like to come?” “How’s 11.00h? “Would you like to stay for lunch?” We have many memories of lunch with her, her husband and our friend Andreas Barth, her winemaker (whose Lubentiushof wines we also adore). There would always be a moment when she would say, Andreas, can you bring up something old from the cellar?
Unfortunately Dr Heidi became ill and, although almost recovered, decided at 70-something, it was probably time to sell. Enter Gunther Jauch, generally held to be the most popular man in Germany. An unassuming man, he’s a TV host and commentator, a national treasure, a kind of David Attenborough figure (without the nature programmes). Gunther is a distant relative of earlier owners and has brought a new energy to his new acquisition. The same team is onboard and Andreas was able to make some exquisite wines in 2009, a world away from the searing acidity of the old-school Saar wines. Effortless.
Van Elkan (Mertesdorf)
We have frequently searched along the Ruwer, the small tributary that joins the Mosel just east of Trier, where the wines have remarkable delicacy and race. A tip from Marco Winterberg, a teacher and part-time wine importer in Holland brought us to Marco van Elkan’s door. He works full-time in a social research project at Trier University, so our appointment had to be early. Very early – we were tasting dry Riesling at a bracing 8.30h in the morning.
He bought a miniscule parcel of abandoned vines in the Kaseler Nies’chen vineyard in 2001 and nursed the 70 year-old vines back to life. First vintage was 2003. The vines were grateful and, with some guidance from Peter Geiben (of Karlsmuhle) and Ludwig Breiling (former wine-maker at Karthauserhof), the results are pure Ruwer. Clear, herbal and fresh, like a fast-running mountain stream.
In 2008, he and his wife built a striking new house that includes holiday apartments and his cellar. Marco now has four parcels of vines totalling half a hectare (still tiny) which produce a meagre 3,000-4,000 bottles a year. We bought 4% of his 2011 production!